The two-night Ann Arbor Folk Festival – a fundraiser for The Ark, now in its 37th year – is the kind of event that always gets me thinking about the myriad, sometimes random ways we find the music, and the artists, that we love.
It’s often like an expanding chain. For example, I fell instantly in love with Lyle Lovett (who’s not playing at this year’s AAFF but has played the show in the past) while watching him perform the song “Penguins” on “The Late Show with David Letterman” in the ‘90s. When I later went to see him perform live, a then-unknown group called Nickel Creek opened, and I fell head over heels again.
That’s just how these things happen.
And that’s also the driving idea behind AAFF, which links headliners like Iron & Wine and Neko Case (on Friday) with the likes of Justin Townes Earle, Willie Nile, Pearl and the Beard, Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, and local favorite The Appleseed Collective; Saturday’s headliners, meanwhile – Patti Griffin, Ingrid Michaelson and Jeff Daniels – will play alongside Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys, Johnnyswim, PigPen Theatre Co., and Michigan-based band “The Crane Wives” (who wowed me at an outdoor concert this past summer, inspiring me to buy the CD, “The Fool in Her Wedding Gown,” to which I listen fairly regularly).
37th annual Ann Arbor Folk Festival
- What: The Ark presents two nights of both well-known and up-and-coming artists, including Friday’s headliners Iron & Wine and Neko Case, and Saturday’s headliners Patty Griffin, Ingrid Michaelson and Jeff Daniels.
- Where: Hill Auditorium,
- When: Friday and Saturday, January 31 and February 1, at 6:30 p.m.
- How much: $35 or $47.50 for a single evening; $60 or $85 for series tickets. Call 734-763-TKTS or visit www.mutotix.com.
In this era of iTunes, YouTube, Spotify, etc., it’s easier than ever before to “discover” new music. But given the endless stream of artists out there, there usually still has to be something – be it a friend, a television show, a movie soundtrack, etc. – that gets us excited and points us in an artist’s (or a group’s) direction.
For example, I first heard Folk Fest headliner Patty Griffin when she was being interviewed on National Public Radio’s "All Things Considered." Her 2007 album “Children Running Through” had just been released, and as she talked about the CD’s songs, and short excerpts played, I found myself pounding on the steering wheel in time with “Getting Ready,” and tearing up when listening the lyrics of “Burgundy Shoes,” and losing myself in the sunny, hammock-sway vibe of “Heavenly Day.”
I bought "Children Running Through" the next day – and shortly thereafter, I purchased all Griffin’s previous albums, as if suddenly starving for what I hadn’t even known existed just days before. There’s some sort of electric, palpable excitement in finding a singer/songwriter who connects with us so deeply, and so immediately.
AAFF headliner Ingrid Michaelson provides another example. Though I’d heard a few of her early songs (“Be OK” and “The Way I Am,” primarily) on commercials and TV shows, it wasn’t until I covered her in-store appearance at Borders, as she was promoting the release of her album, “Everybody,” that I keyed in to the charm, personality and wit that drives her songs. I bopped along to “Move a Mountain,” watched a mother and her young daughter sing the words to "Everybody," and keyed in to "Soldier." And that was it. She’d won me over as a fan.
Similarly, I first heard Jeff Daniels’ sometimes funny, sometimes poignant original music at one of his annual Purple Rose Theatre fundraising concerts; and Iron & Wine’s dreamy, wistful sound crossed my path by way of the film “Garden State,” which prominently featured his cover of “Such Great Heights" (which I nearly wore off my CD from repeated play).
Neko Case, however, is a singer/songwriter I’d often heard about, but whose music I’d never had the chance to seek out. But with “People Got a Lotta Nerve” popping up on the radio, and an upcoming appearance at the Folk Fest, I’m now listening to, and exploring, more and more of her stuff.
Which is, in addition to raising money for The Ark, what the Folk Fest is all about. My (and your) next musical “discovery” might just be waiting at Hill Auditorium.
And that’s a pretty exciting prospect.
Jenn McKee is an entertainment reporter for The Ann Arbor News. Reach her at email@example.com or 734-623-2546, and follow her on Twitter @jennmckee.